by Chad Kerksick PhD December 06, 2011 5 min read
The short answer to this question is “No, you don’t have to supplement”. But, you better be prepared to wolf down and shell out enough coin for some massive amounts of meat. Let me explain.
The foods which contain the highest concentrations of creatine are meat products like beef, pork or fish, but in particular tuna, salmon and cod.
In this respect, the common creatine content found within many readily available foods ranges from 1.4 – 4.5 grams per pound of the food consumed. These levels of creatine content would make it challenging at best for someone to get the recommended amount of creatine naturally in their diet and this is illustrate in the table at the end of this article.
The most commonly used and scientifically substantiated dose of micronized creatine monohydrate is an absolute dose of five grams (Kreider 2003; Buford 2007), which is similar to a heaping spoonful. Other recent studies and position statements by professional organizations have advocated the use of a dose relative to body mass (Buford 2007) and also fat-free mass (Burke 2003).
If a loading phase is followed, the most commonly utilized absolute loading dose is five grams per dose and four doses are taken each day for a total of 20 grams per day for a period of two to six days depending on how quickly an ergogenic outcome is desired (Buford 2007).
A commonly utilized relative dose during loading was 0.3 grams of creatine per kilogram of body mass each day which equates to an absolute dose of 16 – 27 grams per day or an average dose of 22 grams per day for athletes who weigh 120 – 200 pounds (Buford 2007). Keep in mind this is the recommended total dose so it would likely be broken up into three to four daily doses.
After the traditional loading period, absolute daily doses of three to five grams have commonly been used and are recommended (Buford 2007). When using a range of body weights of 120 – 200 pounds, this absolute dosing range equates to a relative dose of 0.04 – 0.07 grams creatine per kilogram of body mass each day.
Researchers from Canada were one of the first to recommend a dosing regimen relative to fat-free mass (Burke 2003). In this study, a dosing regimen of 0.25 grams of creatine per kilogram of fat-free mass each day was suggested for loading and then 0.0625 grams of creatine per kilogram of fat-free mass each day for daily dosing use was used.
This dosing approach is more scientifically sound because the dose provided is directly reflective of the primary tissue which will use the creatine. But from a practicality standpoint, it would be rather cumbersome to continually have your body composition evaluated as the amount of fat-free tissue would change on your body as a result of training and supplementation.
Therefore for reasons based on available safety data and efficacy data to support an absolute dose of five grams, this regimen is still the most popular. Again if you make some assumptions regarding body mass and assume body composition is 15% fat and 85% fat-free mass, the recommended relative loading dose of 0.25 grams creatine per kilogram of fat-free mass per day will deliver 12 – 19 grams creatine per dose or an average of 15 grams creatine per dose. Using identical assumptions, the daily relative creatine dose would equate to a three to five gram dose each day.
Therefore using the available scientific literature, an absolute loading dose of 15 – 22 grams should be considered and an everyday dose should be three to five grams each day.
This is where it gets interesting because if you use these recommendations and the published amounts of creatine found in common dietary foods, the following amounts of the foods listed below would need to be consumed on a daily basis:
|Creatine Content in Selected Foods|
|Food||Creatine Content||Amount of each food which needs to be consumed daily in pounds for each respective creatine dose|
|Grams/pound||3 gram dose||4 gram dose||5 gram dose|
|Herring||3.0-4.5||0.67 – 1||0.88 – 1.33||1.11 – 1.67|
Upon quick review of this study, someone can easily see that consuming these amounts of food would be challenging in a number of ways. For starters, the actual expense of purchasing this amount of food would be one concern.
Using beef as an example, if someone decided to consume a daily four gram dose, this would require two pounds of beef to be consumed. At a modest $8 per pound for beef, this would be $16 per day or $110 per week for just the beef. Compares these numbers to what it costs for a six month supply of creatine monohydrate powder and you might try to sing a different tune.
Then you add in other grocery items and you can see this will result in a significant expense. I’m not saying it’s impossible, but other factors may arise. Then you have to consider the amount of time it would take to plan and prepare this amount of food. Also, it would be reasonable to suggest that the sheer desire to eat and consume this amount of food on a daily basis may be a struggle.
In addition to this point, a person must consider that while all of this food is being consumed, other nutrients such as carbohydrates, essential fats, vitamins and minerals are also going to need to be consumed in the diet.
In addition to all of the other points brought forward (cost, time, hunger), it’s quite likely that consuming this amount of food would increase daily caloric intake to levels that might result in weight gain and negative changes in body composition, not to mention other effects which may impact health.
In summary, the answer to your question is “No” you don’t have to supplement, and while it’s respectable for people to want to avoid synthetic nutrients and what not, the reality is that other factors such as price, time to prepare and overall hunger towards these foods and associated amounts have to be considered as well.
It’s just not as simple as saying you aren’t going to take supplements and you’ll get it all with foods. Finally, when you consider the fact that a number of well-controlled studies have shown creatine use to be well-tolerated and safe, the number of reasons to not supplement get less and less.
The last argument may be that this amount of creatine wouldn’t be needed every day after muscle stores of creatine have been maximized, which would be a sound argument. A recent study did just show that the overall frequency of dosing creatine (taking the same dose in two days vs. three days) may not impact changes in muscle thickness or strength over a period of six weeks (Candow 2011).
At the end of the day, it remains possible that someone could get enough creatine from food sources to increase creatine and performance, but practical factors such as cost and time should also be considered.